Major Club Football Rivalries

They are the first games you look for when the fixtures are drawn pre-season. The games you crowd into the local pub with your mates to watch religiously. What is it about a derby game that captures the raw emotion & passion of football? They are much more than a normal game of football that’s for sure!

Derby games are built over time. Initially though one or more of the following characteristics play an important role in setting up the rivalry required for a classic derby contest.


Location, location, location! The most common derby games are based on the proximity of the two clubs involved. Local derbies usually involved clubs battling it out from the same City but can also extend to neighbouring cities or regions. These games provide supporters with the opportunity to contest local bragging rights. As a result they are quite often the most important games on any supporter’s calendar. The Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool is one of the most famous examples of a local derby.


Derby games driven by religious differences are some of the most passionate derbies in the world. A prime example is the Old Firm derby in Scotland, arguably the world’s biggest derby game. Celtic supporters traditionally are Catholics, whilst Rangers fans are traditionally Protestants. These religious differences contribute to the fiery atmosphere during Old Firm derbies, both on and off the pitch.


Some clubs are traditionally aligned to particular political beliefs. When two clubs with opposing political alignment clash, the game always has an extra bite to it. Looking at the Old Firm derby again, it has deep ties to the Northern Ireland political situation. Rangers fans are traditionally loyalists, whilst Celtic fans are traditionally republicans. This political contrast is another reason for the often explosive atmosphere during an Old Firm game.

Animosity/ Controversy:

A controversial event can create great animosity between clubs. One single event usually isn’t enough to create an enduring rivalry between clubs. However these events often fuel the flames between existing rivals. The bitter transfer of Luis Figo from Barcelona too their great rivals Real Madrid was one such event. Luis Figo became one of the most hated men in Catalonia when he agreed a deal with Real Madrid during their presidential elections in 2000. Barcelona had no option but to enter transfer negotiations with their bitter rivals. Figo would move for what was then a world record transfer fee.

Class Divide:

Class related derbies are usually found when one club is supported by the working class, whilst the other club is supported by either the middle class or upper class. The derby of the eternal enemies in Athens, between Olympiakos Piraeus and Panathinaikos is one of the best examples. Olympiakos traditionally gather their support from the port of Piraeus, home to Athens’ working class. Panathinaikos’ support on the other hand traditionally comes from the old upper class of Athens society. Derbies between these two great Greek sides are furiously contested and historically quite violent.


Racial tensions can fuel intense rivalries between clubs, quite often resulting in violence. Australian football has historically been plagued by racial tensions. Historically Australian clubs gathered their support from immigrants originally from the Balkans. When clubs supported by opposing ethnic fan-bases met on the pitch, violence would usually occur off it. Racial violence tainted the reputation of football in Australia. The implementation of a new national league in 2004 saw Football Federation Australia implement a one City one club policy to combat racial tensions. This move has been quite successful and has helped reduce racial conflicts from top flight Australian football.

Recent Success:

Success breeds rivalries between clubs. Periods where two clubs are consistently competing with each others for major honours, usually generates a competitive rivalry between the supporters. Matches between Manchester United and Arsenal during the last decade have been some of the most spiteful games in the English top flight. This rivalry arguably reached its peak with the infamous “Pizzagate” incident at Highbury. A confrontation between opposing players in the tunnel after the game, allegedly resulted in United manager Sir Alex Ferguson being struck by a slice of Pizza.

History / Tradition:

The Derby d’Italia between Inter Milan and Juventus is eagerly anticipated each year. Historically Inter & Juventus sit at the top of the Serie A history books for most goals scored & most games won. Their derby games are always high drama due to this past success. Likewise in England, clashes between Manchester United and Liverpool are arguably the biggest games of the season. Historically England’s most successful clubs, both sets of supporters claim that their side is the top club in England. Relations between both sets of supporters are quite bitter as a result.

The more of these characteristics a derby game possesses, the more passionate the derby is likely to be. Some of the world’s biggest derby games like Scotland’s Old firm derby or Argentina’s Superclásico could lay claim to possessing at least six of the above characteristics.

There is a negative side to derby games though. Football violence has plagued the sport over the past half century. Supporters can sometimes take their passion and commitment too far and express themselves with violent acts. With the heightened emotions of a Derby game, it comes as no surprise that violence is more common among these fixtures.

Despite that negative side to derby matches, it is clear that they are considered around the world to be much more than just a football match. When you take into account the characteristics mentioned above its not hard to understand why. Derby games represent the issues that have divided humanity since the dawn of time. They embody both the strength and weakness of humanity, and wrap it into a 90 minute package, captivating audiences across the world.

We have put together a list of the World’s most famous club rivalries. They are organised by confederation:

Also Read: Football Rivals You Love To Hate, The Most Violent Football Rivalries and Footbo’s excellent mini-encyclopedia on Football Rivalries.

We encourage anyone who has personally experienced any of the derby fixtures from the above lists to write a feature article on their experiences and get it published on Soccerlens.

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